“Years, after all, are only numbers.
Time is a continuum, but is it linear or coiled in cycles?”
This haunting story is told via three separate time-lines.
Ulla (800 A.D.) – a pagan Norsewoman who comes ashore the western Scottish coast with her injured lover and plundered bounty. She enlists the aid of a Christian monk/holy man by the name of Odrhan to nurse her lover back to health. Ellen (1890) – a young house maid working at Sturrock House. Distantly related to the Sturrock family via an illegitimate connection, Ellen has lived in the area her entire life. Ellen is very fond of the youngest son of the house, yet the elder son has her in his sites… Ellen wouldn’t be the first house maid to have fallen victim to his lustful advances and skillful manipulations.
Libby (2012) – a young woman in her late twenties who works at a British University in the department for medieval studies. She is to oversee a ‘dig‘ at the site on the Scottish coast which was the origin of the legend of Ulla and Odrhan. Libby is keen to visit the site as not only does it interest her through her work, she also has familial ties to that area and Sturrock House in particular. Her grandmother, who lives in Newfoundland, told her countless stories of Scotland and the ancient legend of Ulla and Odrhan.
Now, with erosion eating away at the remains of Odrhan’s chapel and the nearby burial mound, time is of the essence if anything is going to be learned and salvaged from the site.The man who lives at Sturrock House, Rodri, a widowed father of two young boys, is less than forthcoming with his permissions to investigate the site. With mercurial moods and an underlying tension, Rodri piques Libby’s interest…
“Rodri Sturrock, she was learning, handled facts robustly, and then dared them to protest.”
When skeletal remains are found buried beneath the mound in the dunes, the archaeological dig is in peril, and the identity of the body a mystery. For the remains are not ancient – they were buried alongside a firearm from the Victorian era.
This historical novel kept me entranced the entire time I was reading it. “Women of the Dunes” encompassed many of the factors I prefer in a novel. An atmospheric setting, on the coast of the west of Scotland; more than one time-line to give a broader look at the story via different roles and perspectives; and an interesting plot which in this case encompassed Scottish legend, folklore, oral tradition, and holy relics – with a love story thrown in for good measure.
I appreciated the mentions of Libby’s ties to Newfoundland in the book and liked that it showcased the close ties the eastern Canadian provinces have to Scotland.
I found this book to be an eminently readable amalgam of historical fiction and love story which retained a certain integrity to the past while not becoming sappy or unrealistic.
This is not my first read from this author, but it is certainly my favourite of hers so far. Recommended!
This review was written voluntarily and my rating was in no way influenced by the fact that I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel from Atria Books/Simon & Schuster via NetGalley.
ISBN: 9781501189593 ASIN: B078MB3YRX 385 pages
Sarah Maine was born in England but grew up partly in Canada, returning to the UK for university where she studied archaeology. She now works as a freelance researcher, lecturer and writer, combining an interest in the past with a love of travel and an outdoor life.